Not everyone will be back to defend
Surprised? Sure, a little, said Peter Chiarelli, standing on the ice at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Wednesday night, immediately after the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup win since 1972. Ending the season as a champion — especially in such a grueling way, with 25 games over eight weeks — always brings with it a bubbling cauldron of mixed emotions, including surprise, dismay, grandeur, even perhaps a sense of dismay.
“But at the same time,’’ said Chiarelli, hired as general manager in June 2006 to turn around a moribund franchise, “we’re a cap team. We are built to win.’’
In other words, money spent, especially on player payroll, is supposed to translate to titles earned. In Chiarelli’s five-season tour as clerk of the Black-and-Gold works, the Bruins have always paid out nearly the maximum payroll (just under $60 million this year).
But until this season, they had yet to reach Round 3 of the tournament, and actually failed to qualify for postseason play in Chiarelli’s rookie season, 2006-07, after which he dismissed coach Dave Lewis only 82 games into his four-year contract.
For 2011-12, the Cup-defending season (sounds odd right now, yes?), Chiarelli again is likely to test the upper limits of the league’s new cap (approximately $63 million). Even then, perhaps three or more of the players who will have their names freshly engraved on the Cup this summer won’t return to Causeway Street. As sure as emotions are mixed at times like Wednesday night, it’s equally certain, especially in a salary-capped sport, that the roster will be reconfigured, at least slightly, for the next season.
Free agency begins July 1, which means one of Chiarelli’s first bits of business will be to figure out what to do with unrestricted free agents Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle. Both could be back, but if so, it likely would be at steep salary discounts for the pair, both of whom are enigmatic and pricey.
Ryder, his three-year, $12 million pact now expired, became so ineffective late in the season that he finally was a scratch (coach’s decision) three times. When he is engaged and his shot is working, he is a feared scorer, and he was that again for much of the playoffs (8-9—17).
But for his three years, he was that player only about half the time, and it’s a good bet that Chiarelli will make that case in contract negotiations with the 31-year-old right winger. If he wants to work for something around $2 million a year for a season or two, then maybe he’ll have a deal. If not, enter rookie Jordan Caron.
Kaberle, who ultimately cost the Bruins top prospect Joe Colborne and two high draft picks (a first- and second-rounder) to acquire from Toronto, didn’t deliver as advertised, which was as an impact puck-moving defenseman.
At times, he was adequate, and at others the focal point of back-line buffoonery. Too soft. Too reluctant to shoot.
Worst of all, his impact on the power play was negative. He was acquired first and foremost to make the PP click. For whatever reason (see: reluctance to shoot), his presence only made it worse. Instead of click, they got crickets.
By the end of the postseason, the world-class Czech blue liner was demoted to a third pairing with rookie Adam McQuaid. File under: “treasure, lost,’’ or at least “hidden.’’
Like Ryder, if Kaberle will take, say, a 50 percent rollback to around $2 million, he could be reupped for a year or two. If not, enter rookie Steven Kampfer or Matt Bartkowski.
Chiarelli’s toughest nut could be Brad Marchand, who, fittingly, developed as the club’s toughest nut in the postseason. Marchand found his way onto a few Conn Smythe (MVP) ballots (hand up here), repeatedly making himself a focal point of just about everything but the repair and general maintenance of the Zamboni during the Final.
Marchand, 23, became the new-age Little Ball of Hate (cf. Pat Verbeek), adding some deft stickhandling and timely scoring to his kit of grit and guile. Not a lot of players in today’s NHL are fun to watch, but the tenacious, gimme-back-my-milk-money-now-you-bozo Marchand is one of them.
So what is LBOH worth as a restricted free agent? That could chew up abundant print and data space this summer, because he easily can make the case that he’s worth the same upgrade received by the Boston drafted-and-developed David Krejci and Milan Lucic. That’s right, every right to ask for something in the $3.25 million-$3.75 million-a-year neighborhood. Hate can be good. And lucrative.
Overall, the top line (Lucic-Krejci-Nathan Horton) remains intact and under contract. Marchand and Patrice Bergeron will need a new running mate on right wing to replace Mark Recchi (perhaps Rich Peverley). Chris Kelly will be slated for third-line duty with Tyler Seguin and perhaps Ryder (more likely Caron). The fourth line (Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton) is signed, sealed, and delivered.
Team captain Zdeno Chara and shutdown partner Dennis Seidenberg are both under long-term deals. No issue. Second pairing Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuck each have deals in place. Kaberle is likely gone, which could mean a new deal for journeyman Shane Hnidy and/or prime time for either Kampfer or Bartkowski to pair with McQuaid.
Goaltending is yet another non-issue. Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas has two more years to go on his deal, and Tuukka “The Future’’ Rask is set for one more year.
Now, back to the max cap business. It’s not a fait accompli, but certainly a growing belief around the Boston front office that the oft-concussed Marc Savard (cap hit: $4 million for six more years), will retire rather than risk even more serious brain injury.
If Savard, Ryder, and Kaberle all were to go, that would leave Chiarelli with some $12 million toward 2011-12 payroll. Marchand will get a chunk of it. And because the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in September 2012, Seguin’s cap hit (even if he never achieves bonuses to approach it) zooms to $3.55 million, per CBA accounting, a near fourfold increase over his entry-level wage.
For discussion’s sake, let’s presume Chiarelli nets out $5 million of that $12 million as shopping money. With a $3 million bump expected in the max cap, the GM could be left with upward of $8 million available for July 1 free agent shopping.
But that’s theoretical, too, because half of that $8 million would be available only if Savard decided prior to July 1 that he’s officially joining the ranks of the fishin’-and-golfin’ Royal & Ancient Society. Far more likely that he would take at least until Sept. 1 to make a decision. And it could be made harder knowing that he would be rejoining the NHL’s defending champions.
For at least a day or two, all the money matters can wait. The Cup is back in the Hub, the Duck Boats are ready to waddle, and a city that clung for too long to the memory of Espo, Bobby, and the Cheese is ready to party like it’s 1972.